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[All] Comparison of expressions of guitar harmonics playing in music notation software

In this article, we will take a look at several types of music notation software currently on the market that are especially suitable for creating rock guitar scores, and compare them in terms of how they express harmonics.

As an example, similar to previous articles about guitar bends and ghost notes, I looked at products that allow you to write Japanese-style stemmed tablature. Among the high-end products Finale, Sibelius, and Dorico, I will use Finale, which is a standard tool in the Japanese music score publishing industry, as a representative example.

Specification comparison (Finale, Guitar Pro, Dorico SE/Elements, MuseScore)

(1) Finale 27

(*Tablature is enlarged to 120%.)

・Natural harmonics (1st measure)

Finale allows you to individually select different shapes for noteheads. For guitar’s natural harmonics, it is common to use a diamond-shaped notehead, as shown in the first measure of the music example.

Starting from v27, when a variety of SMuFL symbols can be used for diamond-shaped noteheads, a wide, smart-shaped diamond called "Diamond black notepad (wide) (U+E0DC)" can also be used. This example uses it.

In Finale, you cannot use fractions or decimal points in tablature numbers, so if you want to express the position of a harmonic point that is a little far from directly above the fret, such as on the third beat of the first measure, it takes time to hide the numbers, rewrite the numbers using an expression tool, etc., and then overlap the surrounding shapes.

・Picking harmonics (2nd measure)

For example, Young Guitar, a long-established rock guitar magazine in Japan that was first published in 1969, uses the symbol “P.h” enclosed in an oval to represent picking harmonics. This can be used by loading the “Guitar & Bass Integrated Library” for guitar. (Please see this article for details on the library.)

In addition, picking harmonics are called Pinch Harmonics in English, and in Western guitar scores, harmonic notes are written in addition to the original note, or only harmonic notes are written and the symbol “P.H.” is added, or artificial harmonics. It seems that there are various styles, such as considering it as a type of “A.H.”. In this example, I have tried to intertwine them.

・Tapping harmonics (3rd measure)

In Young Guitar magazine, tapping harmonics are expressed as diamond-shaped notes on the staff side, and on the tablature side, the pressed string frets are basically numbered, and the position of the fret to be tapped is also written in parentheses.

Finale does not have a function to automatically write harmonic points, so the numbers in parentheses like the one above are created by yourself using an expression tool and placed manually.

・Artificial harmonics (4th measure)

Artificial harmonics (A.H., artificial harmonics), in which you press the string and touch the harmonic point at the same time as you pick the string, is basically a playing technique for classical guitar, but for rock guitar, it is a playing style that is favored by some guitarist such as Steve Morse and Eric Johnson, even technical bassists such as Jaco Pastorius and his successors on the electric bass. 

The sample score is a phrase that combines normal notes and harmonic notes, the staff side shows the normal notes and harmonic notes, and the tablature side shows the fret position where the string is touched by the finger on the plucked side, similar to tapping harmonics. 

In addition, this phrase uses a special playing technique in which the index finger on the plucking side touches the harmonics point and is picked with a pick held between the thumb and middle finger, while the normal note is picked with the pinky finger on the plucking side. In the example, I have added “picked w/ pinky” to indicate this.

(2) Guitar Pro 8

In the case of Guitar Pro, you can specify a notation from the menu for each type of harmonic performance, and once you select it, the appropriate style will be automatically applied.

It also recognizes the position of the natural harmonics point, which is slightly away from directly above the fret, such as “3.2” and “2.4” in the second half of the first measure, and enters it as a decimal point.

In the case of artificial harmonics, including picking and tapping, if you specify the pressed fret and harmonic point position, the pitch of the harmonic note will be calculated and a diamond note will be automatically added there.

Conversely, if you select and specify the harmonic note to be added to that note from the pull-down menu, for example in the form “2nd octave + Fifth”, you can have the harmonic point value automatically entered on the tablature side.

Symbols are entered using well-defined expressions from the beginning, so you probably won't feel that they are lacking, but the style is fixed and there is little room for editing, so it may not be suitable for engraving.

(3) Dorico 5 SE/Elements

The Dorico series also has the ability to process the relationship between harmonics points and pitch like Guitar Pro.

However, like Guitar Pro, the harmonic point value and pitch of the harmonic note are automatically calculated, so in some cases you may not be able to specify the string, such as the E note that moved to the 6th string in the first measure. Or, as in the third measure, the pitch of the harmonics may be expressed in an unintended manner.

Dorico SE does not have the ability to freely arrange text and cannot write performance symbols on the tablature side, but this is possible in the paid versions of Dorico Elements and Dorico Pro, which have an engraving mode.

Dorico SE is not good at text placement, so rather than forcing all the work to be completed within Dorico SE, it may be more efficient to export it as a PDF and finish it with an editor such as Mac’s

By the way, here is an example of a score written using Dorico Elements, using the method mentioned in the previous article to create a separate dummy track and combine it with the original staff score. Using this method, you will have to enter all the harmonic numbers manually, but you can enter the notes on the staff side of the third bar, which represent tapping harmonics, in a style similar to Finale and Guitar Pro.

(4) MuseScore 4

The free music notation software MuseScore allows you to express harmonic playing techniques similar to Finale.

The approach to score production is also similar to Finale, and basically the numbers in the tablature are entered manually, fractions and numbers in parentheses are in text boxes, and the surrounding shapes are pasted with transparent images created with another software.


Which one you should pick up

The conclusion is the same as in the previous articles: Guitar Pro is the best choice for creating rock guitar scores, as it covers all of the various harmonic playing techniques. Although I did not mention this in this article, which focuses on notation, these harmonic playing techniques are also reproduced with high-quality guitar sounds during playback.

Although it seems to have some quirks in input compared to Guitar Pro, I thought Dorico was also great because the free version of SE also has a function to convert notes to harmonics. This is a product that continues to evolve rapidly, and further development is expected.

Although MuseScore does not have convenient features such as automatic input of harmonics, it is noteworthy that it has the same editing functions as Finale and is easy to use. If you want to easily create high-quality scores using a free product, MuseScore may be a good choice.

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